In DepthBehind the Numbers

When the payoff for academics drops, commercialization suffers

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Science  22 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6284, pp. 396
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6284.396

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For decades, innovation experts have urged other nations to adopt the U.S. approach to nurturing innovation on campus. One essential element of that model is the practice of giving universities a majority share, typically two-thirds, of the value of a patent or spinoff company that results from the discovery. But a new study suggests that such a formula may actually make it less likely that researchers try to commercialize their work. A 2002 law in Norway that ended the country's long-running practice of giving academics 100% ownership of their intellectual property and adopted a U.S.-style system caused the per capita number of patents from academics to drop by 53% in the next 5 years. Likewise, the per capita formation of university-backed startup companies plunged by 67%. The researchers also found evidence that the quality of the commercial activity had declined.